The Observer view on the attack on Salman Rushdie being an attack on free expression | Observer editorial

The right to dissent is fundamental to human development but, throughout history, writers and thinkers who have dared to challenge the orthodoxies of their time have faced persecution and violence. It takes extraordinary courage to persist in the face of mortal threats intended to intimidate, silence and terrorise.

For more than 30 years, Salman Rushdie has refused to be cowed by a fatwa calling for his assassination, issued in 1989 by the late supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The violent attack on Rushdie on Friday was not just a heinous attempt on the life of one of the world’s most insightful storytellers but an attack on the right to disagree, on liberal democracy and on freedom itself.

Even more shocking than the fatwa, issued when democracy looked ascendant, was the failure of democracy’s defenders to stand alongside Rushdie as he was forced into hiding for almost a decade and his associates were murdered by fanatics. Many so-called liberals, including…

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